The idea of five leading danseurs bundled together on a stage in a collection of choreographic showpieces is not a good one, save perhaps for those audiences eager to collect vastly too many pirouettes and panting curtain calls. The Kings of the Dance circus, installed in cheese-paring manner this week at the Coliseum – no orchestra; design largely pauperish; its first two “acts” lasting a combined 37 minutes but with all-too-generous intervals – is a tedious example, and redeemed from the insufferable or the greasily opportunistic only by a staging of Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. This brought Ivan Vasiliev as a physically commanding Jeune Homme and Svetlana Lunkina as a superlative Death figure in a reading – ice-cold in erotic force – that I have not seen bettered since the ballet’s first performances.
For the rest, the evening proposed the trumpery, the mishandled, as display case for its participants and something very like a game of cup-and-ball for an enraptured public. With the exception of the elegant Leonid Sarafanov, following in Baryshnikov’s footsteps in Vestris and making every point clear in these little sketches, the men were prisoners of mediocrity.
Roberto Bolle was trapped in a desperate chase after his own past roles amid crass projections and film of earlier and serious repertory. Denis Matvienko and Marcelo Gomes battled their unexplained way through the Morel/St Loup (dark angel/white angel) duet from Petit’s subtly Proustian Les Intermittences du Coeur. Ivan Vasiliev was victim of a prodigiously silly solo, set to an acreage of dull Italian fiddle-clichés, from Patrick de Bana, boasting the title Labyrinth of Solitude, and you really need to know no more than that. (But oh, the cheers and screams for the predictable tricks!) And the five men were held hostage by a chunk of lurching pseudo-Romantic piano music with steps by Gomes, who should have shown more respect for his colleagues.
The evening had begun with the mimsiness of Nacho Duarto’s Remanso: three men, a screen, a rose, dreary lighting, and Granados’ beguiling Romantic waltzes as linoleum on which to drop any last shreds of artistic dignity. Fatuity in excelsis.